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The Best Travel Reward Credit Cards of 2016

Travel reward credit cards is a very broad category. It encompasses everything from airline miles cards to more generic rewards cards. Some cards offer miles, others use points. As a result, picking the best travel rewards card can be a challenge.

To narrow down the list, I divide travel cards into four categories:

1 All-purpose travel cards: These cards aren’t part of an airline or hotel brand. Instead they offer miles or points that can be used with any travel. As you’ll see below the top cards in this category offer at least 2% in rewards. The “catch,” if you will, is that these rewards must be used for travel.

2 Airline miles cards: Offered from every major airlines, these cards can offer the highest value in rewards. The key is to understand your travel patterns. These cards are ideal for those who fly frequently with the same airline.

3 Hotel rewards cards: As with airline miles, these cards can offer good rewards for those who stay with the same hotel brand.

4 Specialty cards: Finally, there are some travel cards that don’t fit neatly into the above categories. An Expedia credit card is a good example, and I’ve placed these types of cards in their own category.

For each of these categories I’ll share my top choice, followed by several excellent options.

All-Purpose Travel Rewards Cards

Editor’s Pick: The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card earns top honors for an all-purpose travel rewards card. Its 2x points for every $1 spent and $50,000 bonus points for new cardmembers lead the pack in the travel category.
Credit Card Travel Rewards Rate Sign-Up Bonus Annual Fee
Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card 2 miles per $1 spent 40,000 Miles* $0 intro for the first year, $59 after that
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card Up to 2 points per $1 spent 50,000 Points** $0 the first year, then $95
Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® 2X miles on all purchases 40,000 Miles***

$89 (waived the first year)

*Enjoy a one-time bonus of 40,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months, equal to $400 in travel.

**Earn 50,000 bonus points when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That’s $625 in travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

***Earn 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 90 days — that’s enough to redeem for a $400 travel statement credit.

Airline Miles Cards

Editor’s Pick: My favorite airline card is the Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card. It gets my vote for two reasons. It offers an excellent signup bonus of 50,000 miles. And it’s a great airline to fly.

Credit Card Travel Rewards Sign-Up Bonus Annual Fee
Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card 2 Points Per $1 on Travel Purchases 50,000 Miles* $99
Citi®/ AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard® 2 Miles per dollar on American Airlines, 1 Mile on other purchases 30,000 Miles** $95, waived for first 12 Months
United MileagePlus Explorer Card Double Miles Earned on United Ticket Purchases 30,000 Miles*** $0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $95

*Earn 50,000 points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.

**Earn 30,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after making $1,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.

***Start with 30,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.

Hotel Rewards Cards

Editor’s Pick: The top pick goes to the Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card. It offers excellent value in terms of redemptions, and you can earn free night stays very quickly.

 

Credit Card Travel Rewards Sign-Up Bonus Annual Fee
Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card Earn 5 points on Marriott purchases 80,000 Points* $85
Citi® Hilton HHonorsTM Reserve Card Earn up to 10 bonus points Earn 2 weekend night certificates** $95

*Earn 80,000 Bonus Points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.

**Earn 2 weekend night certificates good at select hotels and resorts within the Hilton portfolio after you make $2,500 in purchases within 4 months of account opening.

***Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months of account opening.

Speciality Travel Rewards Credit Cards

Editor’s Pick: For the speciality category the top pick goes to the Expedia®+ Voyager Card from Citi. The points earned on Expedia purchased coupled with the bonus points and cash bonus easily win this category. Note that the Travelocity Credit Card is no longer available.

Credit Card Travel Rewards Sign-Up Bonus Annual Fee
Priceline Credit Card 3x ThankYou Points on Travel Expenses including gas 5,000 Points* $95, waived for first 12 months
Expedia®+ Voyager Card from Citi 4 Expedia+ bonus points per $1 spent on eligible Expedia purchases including flights, hotels, activities and vacation packages; 2 Expedia+ bonus points per $1 spent on purchases for dining out and entertainment, including tickets to concerts, movies and sporting events; 1 Expedia+ bonus point per $1 spent on other purchases 20,000 Points+ $100** $95

*Earn 5,000 bonus points after your first card purchase – That’s enough to redeem for statement credits totalling $50 toward purchases of $25 or more made in the 120 days before redemption

**Earn a $100 statement credit after your first eligible Expedia purchase greater than $100 within 3 month of account opening. PLUS, earn 20,000 Expedia+ rewards bonus points after $2,000 in purchases within 3 months of account opening.

  • Catfish399

    Looks like the Capital One Venture is better for me. The Chase’s points are worth a little more but it pays 2 point on travel & entertainment, but only 1 for everything else. Cap is 2 on everything. PS I use SAMs club master card on travel & entertainment. 3 points, gasoline 5.

    • Rob

      Venture is hard to beat. Nice tip on the SAM’s club mastercard.